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Poll: Most voters want Mayor Bloomberg to lose school control

A bare majority of New Yorkers say the mayor’s school leadership is strong, but that doesn’t mean they want him to keep control of the city schools, according to poll results released today.

New Yorkers approve of Bloomberg’s handling of the public schools more than they approve of how he is handling the economic crisis, public transportation, and taxes, according to a new Marist Poll. Only his handling of crime (78 percent) and swine flu (74 percent) got higher marks in the poll. Still, the proportion of people surveyed who think the mayor’s school handling is a success was low, at 51 percent, up from just 40 percent in Marist’s February poll.

Fewer people want Bloomberg to retain control of the schools than approve of how he is leading them: 60 percent of those polled said they thought state lawmakers should take Bloomberg’s school control away when they pass a new law about the system’s governance structure, which must happen by the end of next month.

Those respondents instead said that responsibility for running the schools should be given instead to “an appointed citywide Panel on Education Policy.” The city’s school board is currently known as the Panel for Educational Policy, and how much power it should have has been a central question in the school governance debate. (The Department of Education is already questioning the poll’s findings because of its wording.)

Among parents, the proportion who would strip the mayor of his schools control was even higher, at 67 percent. The poll’s margin of error was +/- 4 percent.

A key issue in the school governance conversation is how much to separate the particulars of Bloomberg’s leadership from the broad principles of mayoral control. Today’s numbers came from a poll about Bloomberg’s approval rating, so the questions focused on him, not the concept of mayoral control.

The discrepancy between the proportion of people who support the mayor’s school handling and those who think he should continue to lead the schools indicates that there might have been problems with the poll’s wording, a DOE official told me today. Responding to a reporter’s question today, Bloomberg himself suggested that different wording might have yielded a different result for the mayoral control question. He also said polls are not likely to be especially relevant to the future of mayoral control.

“I think a lot of these things are depending on how you ask the question and number two, you know, legislation is made by the legislators who have to lead from the front rather than just doing a poll to see where the public is,” he said. “The bottom line is I don’t think any reform that we’ve made would have been done if you had a body that had to answer on every small detail and get lobbied by every special interest. I think that the results speak for themselves.”

The Campaign for Better Schools, a coalition of community groups, issued a press release today saying that the poll results prove that its school governance proposal, which would place significant checks on the mayor’s power, is the one favored by most New Yorkers.

In March, 52 percent of New Yorkers responding to a survey by another polling organization, Quinnipiac University, said legislators should vote to continue mayoral control. The alternative offered by that poll was simply to stop mayoral control.

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